With the start of March Madness upon us, many NCAA teams are gearing up for their opportunity to get to the Final Four, for Long Island University they’ve been down this road before.
LIU clinched their third straight NCAA tournament bid after winning the North Eastern Conference tournament for the third straight year becoming the first team in NEC history to claim that honour.
For Troy Joseph, a redshirt sophomore from Ajax, Ontario it wasn’t his first time experiencing the glory of a conference tournament championship, but it was his first time playing and contributing to the victory.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Joseph told NPH. “That’s one thing I always say.”
After enrolling to LIU following a stellar season at Pickering High School, Joseph had his sights set on making an immediate impact with the Blackbirds. However with playing time not guaranteed he redshirted his freshmen season.
“Honestly, it was a tough decision. You know coming out of high school you have these goals; you know I’m going to do this or I’m going to do that. Then reality smacks you in the face. I didn’t want to sit out, because no one wants to sit on the sideline and just watch but I talked it over with my family and coaches. In the long run it may have been the best decision.”
After redshirting his freshmen year, Joseph began training in the off-season with his uncle David Joseph; father of San Antonio Spurs guard Cory and former Oregon Duck Devoe Joseph, as well as Canadian high-flyer Kevin Thomas. Feeling good with his progress and looking for some game competition, Joseph headed out to Centennial College in Scarborough Ontario for some open gym games. During one of the pick up games Joseph hyper-extended his knee. After the initial diagnosis, the injury was only supposed to last a couple of weeks. Joseph returned to the gym to begin training once again, but with the discomfort in his knee still present he knew something was wrong.
An MRI would later reveal that a small surgery would be needed to remove a small piece of bone that was causing the discomfort setting Joseph’s expected recovery time for six weeks.
A disappointed Joseph would head to the surgery knowing that he would have to once again sit out, but this time only for the preseason…or so he thought.
While on the operating table, doctors would find the main issue with the knee, and switched the procedure to micro fracture surgery. Recovery time for Joseph’s knee went from six weeks to three months before he even woke up from being under.
“I was like whoa, it went from six weeks to three months. Instead of looking at [coming back] around October, November I’m looking at around January.”
Three months after the procedure Joseph was still not on the floor for LIU, even worse he was just getting back to walking and jogging. Reality set in that he would once again miss an entire year of basketball.
“It was just tough for me to be sitting out once again and just be watching from the sideline. This time there’s nothing I can even do about it. I regretted going to that run, but everything happens for a reason.”
Joseph credits his family and friends for keeping him in the right state of mind. Conversations with teammate Jamal Olasewere and fellow Canadian Kevin Thomas were also essential in his recovery.
“I got a lot of encouraging words,” Joseph recalls. “Instead of me reaching out, it was more like everyone was reaching out to me.”
While sitting on the sideline with the season ending injury Joseph confessed to having doubts about his playing career.
“The first week after my injury I was thinking, damn I won’t be able to play basketball ever again. But after I started rehab my mind set was more I want to get back on this court and play like nothing happened.”
After sitting out the last two trips to the NCAA tournament, Joseph now sets his sights on being a main ingredient to LIU’s recipe for success. An opportunity he’s been waiting a long time for.
“This [tournament bid] means the most to me because I was actually playing this year. Everything I had to overcome, I’m definitely thankful for that.”
With LIU’s appearance in this year’s tournament Joseph also become the fifth person in his family in recent memory, to have the honour to step on the floor during the madness. His cousins Cory, Devoe, Maurice and Kris Joseph have all played on the national stage before. The Joseph’s are becoming Canada’s basketball royal family.
“Even if I don’t talk to them for a while, the very next time we see each other it’s like we were talking everyday. But I definitely try and keep in touch with them, they’re family.”
Trying to make his own path with the Joseph name, Troy does look to the other Joseph’s success and uses it as motivation.
“Seeing how well Devoe’s doing, Cory’s doing and even Kris they’re all at the next level. It definitely motivated me to settle for nothing less. I don’t want to sell myself short.”
With his first playing year already under his belt Joseph is looking forward to the future and getting the opportunity to make an even bigger impact for the Blackbirds on the court. The increase in playing time he has seen throughout the year is sure to be multiplied next season, and Joseph is ready for the challenge.
“You know me finally playing this year, finding my role and even taking a step back on the offensive end. But you know next year is going to be a lot different. So I’m definitely going to use my summer to get my body and my skill set right. I spoke to coach about this, and next year I looking to come in and really be a main player on this team.”
Before Joseph can take his game to the next level, he and the Blackbirds will have an opportunity to make a name for themselves on a national stage. LIU drew a first round matchup against James Madison University, which will be played on Wednesday night at 6:40 p.m. with the winner advancing to face number one seed Indiana. A confident Joseph believes this may be the year a 16th seed take down a number one.
“We’re not going in here just happy to be in the tournament. Honestly [a number 16 seed beating a one seed] hasn’t happened yet, but my team is full of a bunch of competitors. When we go out there, we’re trying to win the game, and definitely try and make history.”